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292                                                                                                             B. POLEVOI
for all that, an extremely good-natured fellow. Without
much ado, he led them to the grass-covered earthwork
caponiers in which were standing two brand-new, brightly
varnished, blue "La-5's" with numbers "11" and "12"
painted on their rudders. These were the machines the
new-comers were to fly. They spent the rest of the after-
noon in the fragrant birch wood—where even the roar of
aircraft engines could not drown the singing of the birds
—inspecting the machines, chatting with the new mechan-
ics, and acquainting themselves with the life of the wing.
They were so absorbed in what they were doing that
they returned to the village with the last truck when it
was already dark, and missed their supper. But this did
not worry them. In their knapsacks they had the remains
of the dry rations that had been issued to them for the
journey. Sleeping quarters was a more serious difficulty.
This little oasis in the desolate, weed-grown wilderness
was greatly overpopulated with the crews and staff per-
sonnel of two aircraft wings. After wandering from one
overcrowded house to another and indulging in angry
altercations with the inmates who refused to make room
for the new-comers, and after philosophical reflections
about the regrettable fact that houses were not made of
rubber and did not stretch, the quartermaster at last
pushed them into the very next house they came to
and said:
"Sleep here tonight. I'll make some other arrangements
for you in the morning."
There were already nine men in the little hut, and
they had all turned in. A smoking kerosene-lamp made
from the flattened body of a shell, the kind that were
called "Katyushas" in the first years of the war and were
renamed "Stalingradki" after Stalingrad, dimly lit up the
dark figures of the sleepers. Some slept on beds and bunks
and others on hay spread on the floor and covered with
capes. In addition to the nine lodgers, the hut was occu-
pied by the owners, an old woman* and a grown-up
daughter, who, for the want of room, slept on the ledge
of the huge Russian stove.
The new-comers halted on the threshold, wondering
how they were to step over the sleeping bodies. The old
woman shouted at them angrily from the stove;